Sunday, June 25, 2017

Famous Statuette of Pepi II and his Mother

     One of the Brooklyn Museum's most famous works of art is this delightful statuette of the Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh Pepi II and his mother Ankhnes-meryre II. It is made of alabaster and shows the Pharaoh's mother holding her son on her lap. Pepi came to the throne as a child, but is shown here as a small King, rather than as a child.

     This work of art has a few unusual features to it. For instance, even though Pepi is sitting on his mother's lap, his throne is shown to the side of the throne that Ankhnes-meryre II sits on. Also, there are separate inscriptions on the statuette, one for each person shown. The face of the Queen is not carved in great detail. The eyes are barely roughed out and one wonders if they were not painted on when the statue was first created. A hole in the Queen's forehead probably indicates that a uraeus was once appended to this object.

     Pepi is shown with almost impossibly long legs and with the body of an adult even though this statue clearly commemorates his mother's regency for her young son, who may have been about the age of five at his coronation.

     Pepi has the distinction of possibly being the longest reigning king in all of history. After coming to the throne as a child he may have lived to be about one hundred years of age (although some scholars dispute this and think that sixty was a more likely age for his death).

     A nobleman named Harkuf, who served under Merenre and Pepi II put a copy of a letter (which he received from the young king) on the wall of his tomb at Aswan. Harkuf had just led an expedition to Nubia and sent a message ahead to tell the child-king that he was returning with a dancing pygmy to entertain the Pharaoh. Pepi responded with a letter that  reads like a it was dictated by a child who was excited by the prospect of seeing the dancing pygmy. The letter tells Harkuf to guard his small charge carefully and to see that no harm came to him as the King desired to see this wonder more than anything. This letter is one of the few times in all of Egyptian history that we get a glimpse at the personal life of a ruler.

     The bad news to Pepe's reign was that he probably ruled too long and lost control of his kingdom. After his death, Egypt fell into a state of political chaos that we now call the First Intermediate Period.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pepi I

     Teti was the founder of the Sixth Dynasty and his son, Pepi I was either the second or third king of the dynasty. Some scholars think there was an usurper between Teti and Pepi I, others disagree.

     Teti and Pepi continued to build pyramids like their predecessors had. They also carried over a new idea first seen in the tomb of Unis (the last Pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty) when they had elaborate funerary texts, now called the Pyramid Texts, carved in their burial places. Funerary temples lay before the pyramids and are covered in elaborate, and beautifully executed, carvings.

     Statuary from Pepi's reign is not common. One of the most famous pieces from this reign is a copper statue of the king which is now in the Cairo Museum. The statue shows Pepi, with his arms at his sides, confidently striding forward.

     Another well-known representation of Pepi, now in the Brooklyn Museum,  is the statuette shown here. It is carved from Graywacke and has a small hole in the forehead where an uraeus would have been inserted. The pupils of the eyes are obsidian and the whites of the eyes are made of alabaster. The eyes themselves are inserted into copper rims. The Pharaoh is shown kneeling and offering "nu" pots to (probably) a god or goddess.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Old Kingdom Royal Sculpture

     At the beginning of the Old Kingdom royal statuary was still a bit blocky and not overly elegant. A good example of this is the granite head of the late Third Dynasty to early Fourth Dynasty statue shown here.

     The head is slightly larger than life-size and shows the king wearing the white crown. The face has rather indistinct features and a rather "brooding" expression. Notice also the impossibly large ears.

     This head, which is now in the Brooklyn Museum reminds me of similar ones I have seen from this time period (in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for instance).  The provenance of this head is unknown.

     Based on this statue it is rather hard to believe that in just a few years Egyptian sculptors will produce the exquisite statues of the Pharaoh Menkara that were found in that king's funerary temple at Giza.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The New Issue of KMT Magazine

     The new issue of KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt arrived in my mailbox. As always it is full of interesting articles and gorgeous photographs. The magazine contains an article on the contents of the almost intact tomb of Maiherpri (found in the Valley of the Kings in 1899) as well as coverage of a Ramesses II special exhibit in Karlsruhe, Germany and another special exhibit in the Turin Museum. The usual information packed columns are on display as  "For the Record" contains information about exhibits and new publications in Europe and the Americas and "Nile Currents" reports on the latest excavations in Egypt. All in all, another great issue.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Old Kingdom Sarcophagus

     At the end of the Pre-Dynastic Period, Egypt was unified by a Pharaoh of Upper Egypt (possibly Narmer) and royalty began distinguishing themselves from the "average" Egyptian. Their mastabas tombs in the first two dynasties became larger than the burial places of the average persons, who were usually buried in simple graves with a few pots, some jewelry and, once in a while, a wooden coffin or bed (examples of both can be seen in the Old Kingdom galleries of the Metropolitan Museum). In the early third Dynasty Djoser and his architect Imhotep built a step pyramid that was, at the time, the largest stone building erected in human history.

     In the Fourth Dynasty this trend continued as Khufu, Khafra and Menkara built the great pyramids. But other members the royal family also began showing their wealth. They were often buried in large mastabas in the shadow of the king's pyramid.
     Pictured here is the sarcophagus of a prince or his wife which is currently in the Brooklyn Museum. It was carved from an incredibly heavy granite block and is decorated with a pattern of niches that imitate the front of a major building complex. The lid, which was carved from a separate block of granite, has four holes drilled in it to allow ropes to be used to lower the lid onto the body of the sarcophagus after the body was laid to rest in it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Find in Egypt

     Unlike Iraq and Iran where archaeological excavations are currently almost non-existent, Egypt has a lot going on. A couple of the latest finds include:

1) A Greco-Roman necropolis has been found at Tuna el-Gebel- this necropolis contains the burials of numerous animal mummies (birds and baboons at least). But as excavations continued a cachette of seventeen non-royal human mummies was found. Some of the burials were in limestone sarcophagi and a couple of wooden coffins were also found.

2) The Thirteenth Dynasty Pyramid found at Dashur - some clarity is arriving as to exactly what has been found. Some thought it was the re-discovery of a pyramid that was found many years ago, but now it does seem to be a new pyramid. The original pyramid was found in 1957 and contained the remains of a canonic jar bearing the name of King Imeny-Qemaw. The new pyramid contains a fragment of a Pyramid Text for that pharaoh.  Also, a wooden canonic chest has been found bearing the name of the princess Hatshepsut who is known from two other Dynasty Thirteen objects inscribed with her name. The canpoic box was found in the pyramid's burial chamber, so this pyramid seems to have been built for Imeny-Qemaw's daughter Hatshepsut.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

An Early Pesesh-kef?

     A Pesesh-kef is an implement used during the ancient Egyptian funerary ritual known as the Opening of the Mouth. Small kits containing a Pesesh-kef and some vases used in purification rituals are known from the Old Kingdom (as early as the Fourth Dynasty).

     In the Pre-Dynastic Period, a fair number of objects that are similar to the Pesesh-kef have been found in burials. Some egyptologists call these objects "fish-tailed knives" rather than Pesesh-kefs. The exact use of this object is unclear. It does have a very fine and sharp cutting surface in the "Y" portion of the "knife".

     But what was it used to cut and is having a Y-shaped cutting edge really useful? The answer to these questions is unclear, but Ann Macy Roth has proposed an interesting theory. She says the fish-tailed knife / pesesh-kef was used to cut the umbilical cord after a child was born.

     This object was found in a Naqada 1 grave at Ma'mariya and is now in the Brooklyn Museum.